A team of twelve students at Virginia Tech (pictured above) are taking on an impossible seeming task: how do you design a car that can be driven by the blind? They've got a solution worked out, and with it one day blind drivers may be able to take to the streets independently without any need for assistance.
The car, which is a heavily modified beach buggy, works by using laser range sensors to "see" around itself, and then translate that information to its driver using audio cues and spoken commands. If the driver needed to make a right, for instance, the steering wheel would audibly click every time it's in the right place for the maneuver, enabling a driver to sightlessly pull it off.
The car will use other methods as well, such as vibrating gloves or vests, to make sure the driver knows where he's going. In the event of an emergency, the vehicle will also spray a puff of air at the driver's face, making sure he knows he needs to act quick.
Does it sound crazy? Sure, even Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, an organization which supported the research, said as much as he's been pushing for tech like this for well on 10 years.
"Some people thought I was crazy," he said. "We're moving away from the theory that blindness ends the capacity of human beings to make contributions to society."
The ability to drive independently of a chauffeur or to no longer rely on taxis would make simple tasks, such as going to the grocery store, one that someone without vision could do for his or herself.